A thrillionaire's life can be all at sea
Volvo Round Ireland yachtsman Lloyd Thornburg has money to burn but likes to live life on the edge, writes Barry Egan
Last summer, Lloyd Thornburg led his vessel into the maw of a storm off the northern coast of Brittany. He knew the boat was either going to be broken into pieces - and him with it, dragged down to a watery grave at the bottom of sea - or he would set the sailing record.
It was a clash of wills: Lloyd's will to win with his $5m boat named Phaedo3, and the sea's will to annihilate him in the maelstrom of massive waves.
In the end, Phaedo3 broke the Cowes-Dinard Record of four hours, 49 minutes and 51 seconds, but, Lloyd says, "we definitely pushed the limits to scary, scary places".
"It could have been catastrophic," he adds. "We really put our lives at risk. We are always taking a risk, but that time we really took our lives to the edge, like all the way, and beyond a bit. It was very frightening."
Did he discover anything about himself in that fear?
"Oh yeah. During the experience, I thought to myself, 'I will never fear anything again for the rest of my life'," said Lloyd, who grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as he gave me the tour around his famous boat last Friday in Dun Laoghaire in preparation for the The Volvo Round Ireland Yacht Race.
Organised by Wicklow Sailing Club, in association with the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Royal Irish Yacht Club, the 2016 edition of the race marks a historic new record with the highest ever number of entrants - 64: chief among them being Lloyd who set the World Speed Sailing Record, Antigua to Newport, last year in three days, five hours, 54 minutes and 49 seconds. He expects to sail around Ireland "hopefully" in less than 48 hours. (He set off with his crew yesterday from Wicklow and is due back tomorrow.)
Lloyd is 35, wealthy, single and straight out of an F Scott Fitzgerald novel. Guess which one.
Lloyd, who is staying at Eddie Irvine's palatial house in Dalkey during his short stay in Ireland, lives in St Barts. He skydives. He is a triathlete. And he sails his own yachts around the oceans of the world - it is one of the fastest yachts on water anywhere.
When I mention Somali pirates, Lloyd says that nothing would be fast enough to catch his yacht.
He flies his own private jet around the world. Sometimes he flies on his own around the world. Being on your own at 30,000 feet gives him time to take in the beauty of the skies and time to think about the bigger picture, above the clouds.
You don't always have a co-pilot? What if you have a heart attack?
"Then," he smiles, "I die."
"I've hit the ceiling in the aircraft while strapped in during turbulence," he says later. "Not staying calm will kill you. But the views you get are incredible. It is interesting experiencing the weather from inside the weather."
Lloyd is a philosophical, charismatic character who thrives as much on the adrenaline of whooshing around the seas at 40 knots as he does on the head space that being out of the middle of the sea affords him.
You get the impression that Lloyd is searching less to break world records than for some big truth of self-discovery out there on the ocean wave. . .
"One of the most interesting things about off-shore sailing," says the not-so-ancient mariner, "is you start out and it is really hard and you can't sleep. Then you will hit this wall where you don't want to be there. You want a bed that's warm. Or you want a cheeseburger.
"You want a need that you can't fulfil. That forces you to confront yourself, which is one of the hardest things to do. You learn so much about yourself, challenging yourself."
It seems like 24-hour psychology for free, courtesy of Mother Nature.
"Yeah, the funny thing is," he smiles, "last summer I spent five weeks with a bucket for a toilet, eating freeze-dried food, which is the worst, sleeping in a coffin-sized bunk, getting bounced around and freezing to death. It helps you appreciate the simple things.
"You come back and the first cheeseburger you have or Coca-Cola or beer tastes better than it has ever tasted. And it won't taste like that again until you go to sea again. You are re-sensitised."